The importance of skin area and gender in ticklishness

Scand J Psychol. 2021 Oct;62(5):683-688. doi: 10.1111/sjop.12756. Epub 2021 Jun 21.


The importance of skin area and gender in ticklishness was explored in the present study. No previous report has been published on stimulation of the body surface exposed when dressed in a swimsuit (supine and prone positions), and the use of a feather has not been reported before. Fifty-seven university students volunteered (female N = 26, age range: 19-25, mean = 22.4; male N = 31, age range: 20-26, mean = 23.1). Sessions were videotaped for scoring of local involuntary muscle contractions (IMC) and laughter. Smiles were not scored because the face was not visible in the prone position. Subjective ticklishness was scored on a visual analogue scale. Areas that gave rise to ticklishness, were hatched onto a figure of the body. A two-factor design (gender of tickler by gender of ticklee) explored effects on dependent measures. Results showed that laughter was most frequent in female ticklees, disregarding the gender of the tickler. Subjective ticklishness and IMC scored high in opposite gender constellations. Ticklish areas included the ankles, knees, medial sides of the thighs and legs, lateral sides of the upper part of the body, elbows, the upper parts of arms, and the neck and shoulders. It was proposed that laughter in response to tickling stimulation might express gender stereotypes of socio-expressive behavior in playful social interaction, whereas IMC and subjective ticklishness may reflect biological components of playfulness in opposite gender constellations when tickled by a feather.

Keywords: Clinical psychology; evolutionary psychology; personality psychology; sex.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laughter*
  • Male
  • Play and Playthings
  • Young Adult